Danny Stutsman returns to OU. Next fall, he’ll be one of the SEC’s top linebackers

Danny Stutsman returns to OU. Next fall, he’ll be one of the SEC’s top linebackers

Following Monday’s announcement, Oklahoma can set sights on 2024 knowing it will not only have the best defender of the Brent Venables era, but one of the top defensive players in the Sooners' new conference home.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Dec 11, 2023, 5:09pm CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Dec 11, 2023, 5:09pm CST

NORMAN — Danny Stutsman caught the keys from Brian Bosworth, threw on a fur coat and got behind the wheel of a white Corvette. 

Suddenly, Oklahoma had one of the top linebackers in the SEC. All it took to get there was the 65-second video Stutsman posted Monday afternoon announcing his decision to return to the Sooners for his senior season in 2024. 

Stutsman’s reverse course means a lot of things for OU next fall. 

For one, it keeps the anchor of Brent Venables’ defense and a Butkus Award contender on campus for one more year. For another, Stutsman’s decision maintains the presence of one of the Sooners’ central program leaders, a key development following the departure of quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Buoyed by Stutsman and safety Billy Bowman, OU can now confidently head into Year 3 under Venables with one of the more well-seasoned defenses in the country. 

One more thing: Stutsman’s return ensures the Sooners will enter the SEC with one of the most talented linebackers in the league next fall. 

One year after leading the Big 12 with 125 total tackles in 2022, Stutsman returned this fall to tally 99 that ranked second in the league. Within that figure, it’s worth accounting for the six quarters Stutsman missed between OU’s late season losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State.

Even with the missed time, Stutsman would have been one of the top tacklers in the SEC.

Among SEC linebackers, Stutsman’s 99 tackles would rank fourth this fall, ahead of All-SEC selections including Edgerrin Cooper (Texas A&M), Dallas Turner (Alabama) and Smael Mondon (Georgia), and trailing only Mississippi State’s Nathaniel Watson (137) and Jett Johnson (130), and South Carolina’s Debo Williams (113). 

Stutsman stands comfortably among the top 10 tackling linebackers in the league. From that group, as many as eight could return next fall with Watson and Johnson set to leave Mississippi State. Another element Stutsman has in common with that group? Experience. 

Assuming a bowl game appearance, Stutsman will begin 2023 with 34 career games under his belt. Of the SEC’s top linebackers in 2023, only five — Williams, Cooper, Kentucky’s D’Eryk Jackson, Arkansas’ Jaheim Thomas and Auburn’s Eugene Asante — will carry more experience next fall than the Sooners’ All-American linebacker. 

Stutsman hangs with the SEC’s very best in a handful of other categories. They all point to the fact that he’ll enter the league as of its most sure-handed tacklers.

Pro Football Focus defines the metric of  “defensive stops” as any tackle that constitutes “a failure for the (opposing) offense”, accounting for where a defender makes a tackle and what it means in the context of a given play. 

Cooper, the junior from Texas A&M, led the SEC this fall with 56 defensive stops that ranked 12th nationally. After him, no other returning SEC linebacker recorded more defensive stops than Stutsman’s 46 (28th in the country) in 2023.

Per PFF, Stutsman’s missed tackle rate this fall landed at 9.2%, 43rd nationally. Of those SEC linebackers returning in 2024, only Asante (6.5%). Mondon (6.9), LSU’s Greg Penn III (7.9), Ole Miss transfer commit Chris Paul Jr. (8.2) and Alabama’s Jihaad Campbell (8.9) fared better.

As a general rule, overall PFF grades should be considered arbitrary and taken with a grain of salt. Still, they can be broadly instructive. By PFF’s tackling grades for 2023, only Watson, Mondon, Asante and Penn III tackled more efficiently during the regular season. 

The decision Stutsman announced Monday begins and ends with the Sooners, their sturdiness entering the SEC and the program’s ceiling in 2024. Anything else — including this very piece — is projection. There will be plenty of time for comparison and debate down the line.

Still, with Stutsman set to return, OU can set sights on next fall knowing it will not only have the best defender of the Venables era in the fold, but one of the top linebackers in the SEC, too.

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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